Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Posted: 11:29 a.m. Updated: 3:49 p.m.
By Sarah BaickerCSNPhilly.com
Plenty of names of goaltenders have swirled around the Flyers in recent weeks, but the netminder the team picked up on Tuesday wasn't one of them. Instead, the Flyers signed 23-year-old Finnish goalie Niko Hovinen to an entry-level contract.
Hovinen, a free agent, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild but never played in the NHL. Instead, he spent five years in Finland's SM-liiga league, primarily as a backup.
In 2010-11, playing with the Pelicans, Hovinen posted a 17-25-5 record, 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 49 games. Though his team was the worst in the league, Hovinen was considered to have had a breakout season, during which he had three shutouts.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Hovinen clearly has size and strength that benefit him in net. He's got athletic legacy, too -- his father, Seppo, was an Olympic javelin thrower in the '70s, and his mother, Ulla, holds the Finnish record in discus throw, placing fourth in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Hovinen was somewhat of a teenage sensation but never quite lived up to expectations, according to Vesa Rantanen, who followed his career in Finland. After largely fading from Finland's hockey scene, Hovinen reappeared recently after working with noted goalie coach Pasi Nurminen.
His entry-level contract with the Flyers means Hovinen will make no more than 925,000 in salary (that number is up from 850,000 last year). Because of his age, he is eligible as an entry-level player for two years.
Of course, what his exact role with the Flyers will be is uncertain. The unexpected success of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky last year is certainly evidence that even untested goalies can prove they deserve a spot at the pro level. Chances are, however, Hovinen will likely require a few more years of preparation before he's ready for the NHL; questions regarding his physical and mental strength have long been of concern. His Finnish team, in a press release, said he will remain with them through the duration of next season.
If he were to make the NHL at any point, however, Hovinen would tie St. Louis Blues goalie Ben Bishop as the tallest netminder ever in the league.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at email@example.com
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